Artwork donated by Pati Nagle.
The Freelancer’s Survival Guide: Online Networking
(Networking Part Seven)
Kristine Kathryn Rusch
When Carolyn Nicita asked me to discuss networking way back in February, she reminded me that I had missed a major topic in the Freelancer’s Guide. I also knew that the networking section would have a lot of posts. I didn’t realize, however, that I’d still be writing on this topic in April.
Before you go any further in today’s post, however, stop and read the comments from last week’s post on personality types and networking. Readers have put up some great clarifications and excellent suggestions on ways for introverts and extroverts to survive at conferences. You’ll learn a lot from their suggestions.
Which leads me to online networking. Ironically enough, I would have missed the topic of networking entirely if I hadn’t decided to write this nonfiction how-to on my blog. Even if I had hit upon the topic somehow, I wouldn’t have added much of the wonderful advice found in the comments section, particularly the advice from people who actually know how to network.
I also got a kick out of Kevin J. Anderson’s short comment. He thought I had it together back when we were beginning writers; I knew he had. Both of us were doing the best we could and putting our best faces to the world. Even though we were best friends, we managed to keep our anxieties to ourselves, and use each other’s presence to help us through our difficult first conventions.
I think we stumbled on an excellent formula that I’m sure most other convention-goers have stumbled upon as well.
I saved the most difficult networking topic for last because I feel insecure about my abilities to write about it. Even though I have had an e-mail address for more than fifteen years, and even though I was online as early as 1990, I still feel like a newbie in the field of social media. As I mentioned back at the beginning of the Freelancer’s Guide, I jumped into full online participation only a year ago, after a meeting with Scott William Carter and Michael Totten.
My husband Dean Wesley Smith and I sought out Michael and Scott because they were the most savvy Oregonians we knew on the subject of online interaction. Michael makes a living off his blog, and Scott augments his fiction career with his online work.
Once I’ve decided I want to learn something, however, I jump in with both feet. So does Dean. We’re in the process of upgrading our dinosaurs (who knew that five-year-old computers would be dinosaurs?) so that we can do more than write on them. We’ll be even more active as the year goes on.
But in preparation for becoming active online, I started observing others whom I thought had an effective online presence. There’s a lot to online networking, some of which I’m just beginning to understand.
While we all understand how to network in person—whether or not we’re capable of doing it—networking online is a new and different animal. And yet, in some ways, it has some of the same rules as networking in person.
Networking online requires observation, just like it does in person. So to network well, you need to know what works.
Since I feel so new to this topic, I figured I’d better get some assistance. I knew there would be areas I would miss. So back in February, as I started on the networking topic, I asked anyone reading this blog to tell me how they use social media. Writer Ryan Viergutz responded immediately, and I’m going to share his insights first because they’ll put everyone else’s comments in context.
Ryan is just beginning his freelance career. He’s still in the early phase, so he’s gathering information—and he’s using the internet to do so. Initially he wrote, “I don’t from firsthand, but I do see a swarm of musicians on MySpace all the time. They show tracks and it probably helps. Facebook I don’t get at all, but Twitter is bizarre and unique. It’s a great source of news if you’re wary who you follow!”
Before I go on, let me second Ryan’s Twitter enthusiasm. As a former journalist, used to taking in news from a hundred different sources and distilling it into something I can use, I adore Twitter. It replicates that feeling of being in a newsroom for me—part gossip, part fact, part lunacy. I leave TweetDeck, a Twitter filtering program open as I do my e-mail and constantly go back and forth between one and the other. Because of Twitter, I’m often ahead of the major news outlets on the news of the day (I love that feeling) and I’m keeping track of friends as if we live in the same town. I use Twitter to make announcements, sure, but I also use it to forward information I find interesting or to comment on a friend’s good news. Twitter, more than the other social media programs, truly feels social to me.
Ryan’s experience as a social media consumer, however, is much more vast than mine. He writes, “Web forums are astounding, too. The really huge ones, like RPGnet, can be completely overwhelming. You can get sucked in like people who play World of Warcraft. For that matter, WoW and almost any page online is social media, even your blog, and my mind was blown when I realized that. Anything allowing comments can act as one!”
I hadn’t really put that together either, although I know that each blog can develop its own community. Every now and then, the combined intimacy and vastness of the internet boggles my mind, and makes me miss the obvious. I’m glad that Ryan pointed that out.
After he had sent me the initial comment, I asked for clarification on the way he uses web forums, and how he follows musicians online.
He wrote: “I’m not sure how much traffic the musicians get through their Myspaces, but they do load tracks and link to other places and build exposure. For a different site, I originally heard one of my favorites, Nightwish, thanks to an AMV on YouTube. People load entire albums up on there, which is funky, but I’ve found several I would never have heard of any other way. So that says something!”
I too have found a lot of musicians on the internet that I wouldn’t have found any other way. In fact, I have an appointment each week with iTunes to check the free material. I don’t download all the free music, but I have found a lot of musicians I would never have found otherwise. I particularly like Canción de la Semana, which has introduced me to a lot of music in Spanish I might otherwise have missed. I have also noted that a lot of the songs I downloaded for free, even from unknowns, later climbed the music charts and got a lot of airplay.
I like free on the internet, for a short period of time. I like the way that folks who keep up get freebies which will inspire them to buy other works. When Audible.com asked me if I “minded” giving away The Disappeared, the first novel in my Retrieval Artist series, for one week for free, I said do it without hesitation. I got a relieved response. Seems other authors got angry at the request.
Maybe I understood because I consume free materials on the web—when they are legal (please don’t steal my copyrighted material, folks). But I never completely understood how important it is to be web accessible until a few months ago.
I wanted to buy a song by one of my favorite 1970s musicians. I searched iTunes. I searched Amazon. I searched other legal download sites. I knew I had some of this guy’s songs on my iPod, but I also knew I hadn’t bought any of his CDs (had some albums back in the day; sold them in a move).
So I searched for his website. Even though he’s a name you’d recognize, he had no website. Nor did his band members. He’s mentioned on his label’s website, but no downloads available at all, not free and not for purchase.
After all that searching, I went to see where I had gotten his songs for my iPod. I got them from some movie soundtracks. I’d purchased and put on the iPod.
I found myself getting angry—at the musician—as my odyssey to find his music went on. Which is not what you want your fans to be.
Now, as an artist myself, I know that this may not be his choice. It all depends on the contracts he signed and the agreements he had with his record label.
Many of my novels are not available as e-books yet, and many of them will take years to become available because I sold the e-book rights to my New York publishers more than ten years ago. Those publishers refuse to exercise the e-rights (in other words, make an e-book), and they refuse to return the rights to me so that I can do so.
Imagine my frustration. I want to provide the books to my readers and can’t.
But I’m not so sure about the musician. His lack of web presence makes me think he doesn’t understand the importance of the new market, and how shopping and information has changed.
I now have an app on my iPhone that will allow me to get the name of any song I hear on the radio and immediately order that song if it’s available for download—even if I hear that song at 2:37 a.m. Brick and mortar stores are closed, yet I can have a piece of music that I enjoy with the flick of a button.
Or a novel.
Or a short story.
The key is finding out about them, which comes back to networking. Which comes back to Ryan’s letter.
The last thing he discusses is one of the areas of the internet I don’t participate in: web forums.
He writes, “I use web forums maniacally. You can usually surf them without being a member, but a few have private boards like RPGnet’s Tangency or administrator boards, where only specific people can go. I found Greg Rucka, one of my favorites, from a thread about spy books. I found Dresden there, too, and Jim Butcher gets insane amounts of love on the place. Word of mouth no fooling! People even post history books there. Roleplayers like unique settings.”
And other groups form over different connections. I had the good fortune to watch one of my articles go viral a few months back. A reader pointed out that my article had suddenly become a trending topic several list serves. The article, one of many I’ve written for BenBella Books’ Smart Pop Series, had just gone up on their site as the essay of the week.
I followed as much of the viral trail as I could, learning as I went. Many readers had no idea who I was. Because the article was somewhat political (which is why I’m not giving the title here), many readers assumed I was a journalist or a political blogger, never reading the bio. But quite a few posted my sf credentials.
Had I been prepared, had I been savvy at that point, I’d’ve had one of my novels featured on my website. The article is about comic books as well, and I have a romance novel about comic books. If I had been thinking, I could have gotten quite a few readers at that point.
But I hadn’t been thinking. It was a live-and-learn situation—as is much of networking.
I’m just starting to get ideas on how to network effectively online. I know what I like: I follow people who are informative and interesting as well as people whose work (in the arts or in the public realm) I admire and/or love.
Because I’m so new at online networking, I asked some folks whom I consider very effective as online networkers to help me with this part of the Freelancer’s Guide. I’ll get to their substantial contributions next week.
In the meantime, be thinking of how you consume online media and how you, as a freelancer, might use it to your advantage.
And if any of you have insights you want to share for next week’s post, please e-mail me.
“Freelancer Writer’s Survival Guide: Online Networking (Networking Part Seven)” copyright 2010 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.